Prayer before Birth is a postmodern work, as seen in both its innovative structure, style, and themes. Readers can depict signs of postmodernism in every stanza; however, before one goes into details, the structure of the poem, as whole, is, on the one hand, very innovative, and, on the other hand, represents the core of postmodernism, that of an attack on conventionality.
It seems that the structure of the poem challenges all previous norms of poetry. The very unique form the poem takes, one that resembles staircase, is the poet’s attempt to attack the dull conventionality of poem structures, and innovate one of his one, one that represents him as an individual in a postmodern era, which is characterized with an exhausted literature and a wary self-identification.
Looking at the stanzas, we also notice that they barely consist of one long stretched sentence, except that of the first and the last stanza. One sentence or number one is very significant. It is, again, the poet’s attempt to insert his individuality in an era filled with identity crises, so number one represents unity, unison, hegemony, and, most importantly, individuality.
Moreover, postmodern features are also present in the way the poem’s message is conveyed. Irony is a crucial component of postmodern literature. Prayer before Birth seems to be the incarnation of this very idea, through words.
The poem, in itself, is situational irony. Readers are struck, just at the very first lines by the fact that the narrator of the poem is a fetus, still lingering in his mother’s womb. It seems very ironic, for it contradicts the previous belief that regards little infants to be born as a mere “tabula rasa,” a white sheet, not having any idea about the world they are to be born in.
However, the narrator, though still a fetus, seems to have a god-like knowledge about the horrors of the world, awaiting him at his birth. It makes the readers wonder about the possibility of such a thing to happen, the irony in the act of asking forgiveness for “sins that are in me, the world shall commit.”
Nevertheless, some of the stanzas seem to refer to some of Shakespearean’s famous plays, which is known, in postmodernism, as intertextuality.
The fifth stanza, for instance, is inspired by Shakespeare’s As you Like It and the idea of the world’s stage. McNeice adopted the idea of the world being a big stage, and that life is merely a play, where each persona is just performing a role, he was obliged to memorize its line.
Thematically speaking, this is a reference to one of the characteristic features of the postmodern psyche, which always seeks for means of identification in the New World order – the rise of an identity crisis.
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